When we receive a load of used port wine barrels from the cellars where they have been ageing they can be in various of states of disrepair. Typically there will be a few broken staves, hoops that need replacing and an exterior that needs sanding to clean up the appearance. Our job is to assess each barrel that we receive and ensure that it is guaranteed ready for filling and looking smart when it leaves our facility.
When we receive older used port barrels they can be in a very poor state and need a lot of work before they can be refilled. In the photo above you can see a 20 year old tawny port barrel that is clearly in need of some serious attention. In this case we first of all have to carefully remove the head, which will need a complete rebuild, then we inspect the interior of the barrel. There will be a few litres of tawny port left in the barrel which we will preserve to stay in the barrel when it is shipped to the client (the barrel can never be allowed to dry out.
The inside staves of the barrel have a generous coating of tawny port and there is a truly wonderful aroma which hits you as soon as you open the barrel. We have to do everything we can to preserve the interior of the barrel in its original state, whilst making sure the barrel itself is watertight and sturdy enough to be used for several more years.
Any broken staves will have to be replaced, which we will do by cannibalising a barrel from the same batch, to use its staves to replace those in other barrels that need them. We cannot use fresh wood staves for this purpose without disturbing the characteristics of the original used barrel. On a 20 year old used port barrel we will inevitably have to replace the hoops and rebuild and repaint the heads. We will also give the outside of the barrel a sanding to clean it up and then the barrel is ready to ship.
Here you can see a quick video showing some of the process of readying a used port wine barrel for sale: